The Congress, the FCC, the courts should all take note: Right now, Big Media’s 24/7 propagandist radio broadcasters are perverting the natural course of a California election. The result is, with a month to go, they’ve already called the recall.
Disney’s Los Angeles and San Francisco Web sites have a countdown clock ticking out the supposed end to California’s “Gray Days.” (On KABC-AM, it features a Davis photo that gradually fades to white space.) Salem Communications’ Sacramento AM outpost proudly promotes itself as “The Home of the Recall.” (When the first petitions were circulated, it held a “drive-by signing” for morning listeners still in their pajamas). Clear Channel’s The John and Ken Show keeps slamming “Gov. Gumby” from dusk till dawn. (And slobbering over Schwarzenegger and McClintock.) And News Corp.’s newly formed Fox Radio News is helping cover the recall and other current events for increasing numbers of stations statewide. (Partnering with Clear Channel for a conservative one-two punch on powerhouses like KFI.)
This week’s decision by Peter Ueberroth to drop out as a recall candidate was made in part because media consolidation and greed prevented his campaign as an Independent from spending the $1 million earmarked for radio ads around the state.
As Advertising Age reported exclusively last month (news that the mainstream media continue to ignore), Viacom’s Infinity Broadcasting, with 36 California stations, is not accepting paid candidate ads for the recall election. And Clear Channel, the nation’s biggest radio company, with 71 California outlets, is primarily requiring candidates to buy at least 20 stations through its “political-action network.”
What’s next? Big Media hiding the ballot boxes in the Big Brother 4 house?
Consider that, in San Francisco alone, the 16 Infinity and Clear Channel stations represent a 34.7 percent share of listeners there. At Infinity’s KNX-AM, one of L.A.’s two all-news stations and both owned by the behemoth, paid political spots are limited to ads supporting issues, not candidates. On Clear Channel and Disney stations, Ueberroth’s Republican rivals receive massive amounts of free airtime through softball phone interviews, like the one KFI’s John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou lobbed at Schwarzenegger last week. During this same time, however, statewide radio tagged Ueberroth as MIA, and Davis and Bustamante as POWs.
Why many of the state’s radio stations are refusing or curtailing ads related to the recall race is supposed to be an outgrowth of their fear of an avalanche of all 135 candidates’ advertising demands. Not according to Advertising Age. “Media buyers and a spokesman for one of the candidates, though, suggested the real reason is the ad market is good and the unexpected election didn’t allow stations time to either leave space for the ads or boost minimum rates as they usually do before an election.”
This week, the Alliance for Better Campaigns, a nonpartisan public-interest group wanting reforms that decrease the cost, and increase the flow, of political communication, wrote to Clear Channel and Infinity demanding an about-face “in light of the public-interest obligations you agreed to uphold when you received your free broadcast license.”
Little wonder that this group, along with certain judges, members of Congress and consumer watchdogs, are all trying hard to head off the FCC’s recent ruling to relax longstanding ownership restrictions that would let Big Media morph into Monstrous Media. If the watchdogs fail, the political-campaign process could become even more restrictive.
What California listeners aren’t hearing is more disturbing than what they’re being told by radio’s talk cabal. Criticize Davis or Bustamante for political pandering or wedge-issue politics, and the screener can’t say quickly enough, “Caller, you’re next in line.” Criticize Schwarzenegger for his positions or lack thereof or question the inevitability of his victory, and the mute button goes on.
Mute, about the 100 women who protested outside Schwarzenegger’s new Santa Monica campaign headquarters for his anti-female actions and words. Mute, about the Drudge Reports’ world exclusive that a black bodybuilder has come forward, alleging Schwarzenegger has a history of making racist comments, and names names, dates, places and “nigger” slurs. Mute, about organizers dumping Schwarzenegger as the grand marshal of L.A.’s Mexican Independence Day Parade for his anti-Latino positions. Mute, about The New York Times reporting on allegations Schwarzenegger worked illegally when he first came to California on a visitor’s visa.
Mute, about the demonstrators waving “Hasta la vista, Arnold” signs on Alexander Valley’s Highway 128 and being critical of Schwarzenegger for taking wine-industry money. Mute, about the chaotic protests by organized-union members disrupting Maria Shriver’s campaign appearance in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Sacramento. Mute, about the Los Angeles Times reporting on Schwarzenegger’s 16-year membership on the advisory board of U.S. English, which has ties to white supremacists. Mute, about a lurid 1983 infotainment video showing Schwarzenegger cavorting with topless samba dancers on a tour of Brazilian hot spots. Mute, about Schwarzenegger’s description in last month’s Entertainment Weekly of one ultra-misogynist Terminator 3 movie scene. He chortled, “How many times do you get away with this — to take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl?”
The great irony of California’s airwaves is that, with rare exceptions (like KGO’s Bernie Ward in San Francisco and KFI’s new weekend slot man Johnny Wendell in L.A.), the conservative stranglehold on California’s radio programming has no correlation to its voter registration. Last month, 6.6 million registered Democrats were recorded, compared to 5.3 million Republicans, with 2.8 identifying themselves as Independents. In the 2000 elections, 53 percent of the state voted for Gore and 41 percent for Bush.
There’s not even a pretense of fairness by California’s right-wing radio radicals who take advantage of the Equal Time Rule’s giant loophole exempting so-called bona fide newscasts, news interviews, news documentaries and news events. No one except the feckless FCC would treat partisans like Larry Elder or Bill Handel like legitimate journalists. Even Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity refer to themselves as entertainers. Meanwhile, legitimate journalist Jill Stewart, now on KFI, sounds newly shrill and conspiratorial. (She recently questioned the integrity of an Los Angeles Times recall poll. Absurd.)
The latest Arbitron figures have shown the nation’s 1,100 talk-format radio stations are losing audience. So, up and down California, a red-meat local issue like the recall is being devoured on the airwaves. On Tuesday, KABC’s Doug McIntyre comically couldn’t cut off George Will fast enough when the ABC/Newsweek political commentator expressed opposition to the recall effort (complaining there was no room for “buyer’s remorse”). Less funny was Larry Elder’s “Sage Poll,” joking about the other legislation Davis will be signing after he gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants (a move supported by LAPD Chief Bill Bratton): “Bombs for terrorists? Choirboys for priests?”
It’s times like this we need some perspective. So let’s look to Hollywood where, in Woody Allen’s sentimental film memoir Radio Days, the medium’s programming was shown to transmit dreams. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “Television shows happened in the TV set, but radio shows happened in my head.” There also were a few nightmares, like Walter Winchell, who held Sunday night in his slimy chokehold with those vain and nasty commentaries veering from entertainment to news, campaigning first against American Nazis and then American Communists, convinced he could change the course of world events just because he had access to a microphone.
Today’s talk-radio programming won’t ever be remembered with nostalgia, controlled as it is by thousands of Winchell wannabes who have the backing of Big Media and see Democrats as the new American enemy. Ebert eulogized about Radio Days, “What actually happens isn’t nearly as important as how we remember it.”
After this election’s outcome, let’s recall every exasperating detail.
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